England was a late entry in the race to colonize the New World, although its motives-wealth, national glory, religious zeal-were similar to those of the older colonial powers. Still, by the standards of the time, England was a
second-rate power, and it is one of the ironies of history that its colonies not only succeeded, but eventually formed part of an imperial system that would cover half the world.
England's rise to imperial glory resulted, in part, from a series of revolutionary changes in its social, political, and economic structures in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Some of these changes-such as the
development of a strong centralized monarchy, the Protestant Reformation, and commercial expansion-also affected the rest of Europe and aided the decline of medieval customs, values, and institutions. Others-the
emergence of Parliament, for example-reflected the peculiar character of England's own history. Certainly it is impossible to understand why or how England expanded into the New world without knowing about its
internal development and associated problems over a span of two or three centuries.
Another explanation for England's success rests in the character of its colonies and their people. In particular, the sugar islands of the West Indies and the two largest colonies on the North American mainland,
Massachusetts and Virginia, contributed greatly to the rise of England's imperial preeminence. Again, the evolution of these colonies owed much to England's own development. Internal difficulties, such as the Civil Wars
of the 1640s, gave the mainland colonies an opportunity to grow, relatively free from English interference or restriction. The results were spectacular.
Hardy pioneers-often the misfits of English society carved out viable societies based on strong economies, representative political institutions, and a labor system combining free labor, indentured servitude, and slavery.
Study the early histories of...